Patients seem to be having increasing trouble communicating with their GPs, according to the latest figures from the Victorian Health Services Commissioner.
Complaints about poor communications by GPs increased sharply as a proportion of total complaints about GPs, to 23% in 2010-2011 compared with 12% in 2009-2010.
Communications were the second biggest category of complaints, after “treatment issues”, which represented 46% of total complaints.
It was clear from the figures that some GPs had been the subject of multiple complaints.
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The total number of complaints about GPs rose from 140 to 150 (7%) over the year. Within this total there were 120 complaints about poor communications.
The most common complaint was of “poor attitude/discourtesy” (37.5%), and the next most common was “wrong/misleading information” (23.3%).
“Absence of caring” (18.3%), “inconsiderate/undignified service” (12.5%) and “failure to consult” (8.3%) made up the remainder.
Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson did not give reasons why this problem appeared to be growing, but indicated that patients tended to rely heavily on their GP and to hold him or her accountable for the performance of any specialist to whom they were referred.
“There can be an expectation among patients that their primary doctor, the GP, should know everything about the presenting condition,” the commissioner said. “This can often be, even though they (the patients) may be referred to other specialists, and expect GPs to ensure that the specialists get it right.”
Chris Vertigan, a 35-year-old father of two young children, said he had recently experienced difficulties in communicating with a GP when he had taken his daughter, Abbey, to the doctor because she had a bad cough.
“The doctor checked her and told us she had asthma. I was unsure but she seemed pretty certain,” he said. “I took Abbey home with an asthma inhaler but it didn’t help her cough. A week later it went away. It was apparently just a cold.
“The doctor stopped being friendly after I tried discussing with her why she thought it was asthma. She couldn’t answer and I felt a definite communication gap between us.”